Trucking a bushel of wheat 45 miles to Lewiston Harbor from Neil and Amy Uptmor’s Camas Prairie farm on a ridge above Peck costs 30 cents.
It costs 66 cents to barge that same bushel of grain about 360 miles from Lewiston to Portland on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, said Neil Uptmor.
These pennies feature prominently in the debate over the failure of the four lower dams on the Snake River, an issue that has been in the spotlight in recent months.
The decline in the number of threatened and endangered salmon and rainbow trout prompted U.S. Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican congressman from Idaho, to join the ranks of supporters of the violation.
The breach may or may not work, Simpson said, but without dramatic action he believes the fish will likely disappear.
Farmers, who have earned about $ 5 to $ 7.50 a bushel of soft white wheat in recent years, are most at risk of losing the most if standing water is gone.
Most of the wheat grown in north-central Idaho and southeast Washington is shipped to Portland where it is loaded onto ocean-going ships that take it to overseas buyers who make it good food. walked like Asian noodles.
The affordability of shipping wheat to Portland, along with fertile soil and a climate particularly suited to growing wheat, makes farming sustainable in the Palouse and Camas prairies, said the Uptmors, who are sixth generation farmers.
This economic reality prompted farm organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation to speak out against a $ 33 billion plan from Simpson. The congressman proposed to drill the Lower Granite and Little Goose Dams in 2030 and the Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor Dams the following year.
The $ 33 billion includes $ 3.75 billion for farmers, farmer co-ops, Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and Tri-Cities ports, and barge companies.
Simpson noted that he was not drafting legislation that would make his thoughts come true. He wants the industry to create a plan on how to meet the challenge of getting grain to market if the dams are broken and shared two scenarios that involve putting grain on barges at the Tri-Cities instead of Lewiston.
“With the advancements to come in electric trains, we could be better off and closer to zero emissions by replacing barges to Tri-Cities with zero emission trains,” he said in an email. last week.
The Uptmors lobbied Simpson and his staff for more details in an email, phone, and meeting that Simpson attended at McCall of the Idaho Grain Producers Association.
They are among the grain farmers who encourage Simpson to visit the area. They want Simpson to learn more about the heavy toll his proposal would place on individual farmers, ask questions about his plan, and see the many steps farmers are taking to save the fish.
Simpson has not indicated whether he will visit north central Idaho and southeast Washington.
He has had numerous discussions with farmers and others in the agricultural industry in four years of learning about the matter, Simpson said.
Uptmors are concerned about their way of life. And they worry about families far from the oceans who could go hungry if they couldn’t afford foods made from grains grown in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s interesting how capital intensive agriculture is,” said Amy, an engineer who works for JUB Engineers in Moscow.
“We put virtually all of the money we make in farming back into the farm,” she said. “We can live on my salary. … As a family we can certainly survive, but we would not have the agricultural way of life.
Her husband said he felt the same.
“There are too many changes to even know how it might affect us, and I guess that’s why we’re not even willing to talk about it as an option,” said Neil, who works full time on the farm. . “The other frustrating thing is that even when you talk to (supporters of the violation) they say they can’t guarantee it will bring back the numbers of fish,” he said. “Why are we talking about doing something that might not work and that is going to cause such turmoil? “
As the Uptmors spoke in a workshop where they repaired and maintained farm equipment, Amy’s father drove a combine harvesting spring wheat from a field in the Tammany region that has been in his family for decades. His cousin, Terry Wagner, delivered the grain to the family’s storage silos.
Their children listened as they played nearby. Katie, 4, has volunteered what she loves about Harvest.
“You can see the header cutting the wheat,” she said. “Our combine is going fast.
Her sister, Leah, 10, said she liked the opportunities she had to be outside and would be interested in inheriting the operation one day.
“You have plans for the day and then something might break down, and then you have to find something else to do,” she said.
The questions the Uptmors are asking about the violation go beyond the impact it could have on their families.
Key players need to make sure they have enough information to make informed decisions, the Uptmors said.
They believe that the net impact would be harmful, not beneficial for the environment, between the loss of energy generated by the dams and the increase in carbon emissions associated with transporting grain to the Tri-Cities with trucks. and trains.
If the environment was a tree, the fish would be a branch of the tree, Amy said.
“There are other branches of the tree, and if we just focus on this fish and ignore the rest of the tree, our tree is dead pretty quickly,” she said.
Simpson has a different point of view.
His belief, he said, is that the farmers of Palouse and Camas Prairie can be protected now and in the future with available resources instead of waiting until it is too late to save the fish, and that no money or options are available.
“In the coming years, I think climate change will require more adaptation in many of these areas to mitigate the impacts on salmon and harbors,” he said. “We are seeing that the snowpack is depleting earlier in the mountains and reducing humidity in the west. Every summer it seems the fire seasons get worse.
The Uptmors also want to know more about how Simpson arrived at his proposal amount allocated to shippers and farmers. They fear that the real cost of reinforcing rail lines and other infrastructure will far exceed the $ 3.75 billion identified for this purpose.
More facts aren’t the only thing missing from the violation debate, the Uptmors said.
Recognize the practices that many farmers are already following to help fish.
Uptmors, for example, build small dams in gullies that keep soil from eroding and settling in rivers.
“We try to capture the water before it starts to build up speed and volume,” said Neil. “Then you lead it underground to a safer place. “
They also spend $ 12 to $ 15 an acre on a stabilizer that prevents nitrogen fertilizers from leaking from the fields into the water. The product helps by making nitrogen more available to crops, but it also prevents fertilizer from polluting waterways.
“We do whatever the experts say we should be doing because we want it to last for our families,” Neil said. “We cannot waste this and not be able to pass it on to someone.”